Have you heard stories of a grandparent, uncle or other relative who served during World War II and wondered if they were awarded medals? Perhaps you’d like to display those medals to honor them? If you’re like I was, you’re not sure where to begin.
Begin with the National Archives. They have a wonderful website that contains instructions and forms you’ll need to request military records. Unfortunately for me, and many thousands of families, a lot of the records were destroyed in a fire. If the same turns out to be true for you, don’t let that stop you.
First, talk to relatives that may have photographs. These can contain clues such as the uniform, patches or medals they may be wearing. Also, family stories about their service can contain great information.
Second, there are lots of online resources that can lead you to the information you need. Check newspaper archives in their hometown. Look for websites dedicated to the specific units your relative was in. My grandfather was in the 30th Infantry Division, which there are several good websites with a lot of documentation. Because of this, I was able to piece together the documents showing the awards and medals my grandfather received.
Finally, there are books, such as those produced by “Washington Infantry Journal Press” that may contain information on awards and medals.
I ended up compiling a list of awards and medals along with the documentation to substantiate them. I wanted to be sure the medals displayed were legitimate.
Once you’ve done your research, there are a few companies that you can purchase medals from. The cost of the medals can get expensive, so I purchased the medals a few at a time until I had them all. I saved some money by mounting them in shadow boxes I purchased at a craft store.
As it turns out, I’m actually glad I didn’t receive a government document listing out his medals. This caused me to go on a research journey that resulted in much more! I located a newspaper article describing his actions that led to his Bronze Star. I received from my aunt photographs that I had never seen and a few of his uniform ribbons that were clues to medals. I learned about the places he saw and the things he endured. In the end, I felt the satisfaction and pride in discovering and displaying my grandfather’s medals as well as having new stories to share of his life during the war. If you can, please do some of this with your kids or grandkids. It’s important they know your family heritage.